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Workplace Mentoring for Veterans with Disabilities

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

A soldier stands in front of the American flag

They’re home and ready to enter the workforce, but for veterans with disabilities, taking on a traditional job can be a particularly challenging endeavor. Several years may have passed since a service member has worked in an office. He or she may feel out of touch with some aspects of the tasks at hand, or may be still adjusting to a new disability. For these reasons, starting a mentoring program for veterans with disabilities such as traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be the best first step an employer can take.

Mentoring relationships are intended to foster the growth of an individual. Mentors are people who help others reach their professional and personal goals through support, counsel, friendship, reinforcement and constructive examples. For veterans, mentors provide a valuable support by offering not only career guidance but can also serve as effective role models for leadership, interpersonal and problem-solving skills.

Employers who establish a mentoring program can reap many benefits. The first is that it is an effective recruitment and retention tool. Plus, a mentoring program can encourage improved work habits among mentors and mentees; enhanced productivity and supervisory skills; increased employee satisfaction; and an opportunity to create positive attitudinal changes in an organization’s culture. Simultaneously, mentors gain a boost self-esteem, a sense of accomplishment, increased patience and improved supervisory skills.

There are four popular mentoring types to consider:
1. Peer Mentoring: a person close in age to his or her mentee acts as a sounding board for ideas and plans, and helps guide the individual in an informal manner.
2. Disability Mentoring: a person with a disability mentors another person usually with a similar disability.
3. Group Mentoring: a mentor works with a group of mentees with similar interests and needs.
4. E-mentoring: a mentor advises a mentee through e-mail or the Internet.

Peer-to-peer mentorship programs can especially help veterans with TBI and PTSD succeed in their jobs. Mentors can offer guidance on appropriate interpersonal skills and work behaviors; help veterans with one-on-one job training at the worksite; problem-solve as needed and help them acclimate to the workplace. As the employee with TBI or PTSD develops job skills and confidence, the mentor’s role lessens or “fades”. By gradually transitioning the employee this way, it encourages autonomy as he or she learns to perform the job independently.

Every mentoring relationship is different but successful ones have common elements. For instance, it’s known that the longer the relationship continues, the more positive the outcome. Those who perceive exceptional relationships with their mentors tend to experience the best results.

If you’re considering a mentoring program for veterans with TBI and PTSD or other disabilities and/or combat-related injuries, be sure to do the following for best results:
• Prescreen mentors to ensure suitability
• Make structured and regularly monitored mentoring matches
• Provide training for mentors, both before a match and periodically throughout the relationship
• Focus on the needs and interest of the mentee, not the expectations of mentors
• Ensure that appropriate levels of visibility and accountability are built into the mentoring relationship, including the relationship between the supervisory staff and the mentor.

Implementing a mentoring program for newly hired veterans with disabilities might be the best thing at work that ever happened to them — and to you!